Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Flemington's Dvoor Farmstead: Where Dairy Cows Once Roamed

Flemington's Dvoor Farmstead: Where Dairy Cows Once Roamed
Written by NJ Historian

When most think of an environmental organization, one often thinks of preserving open space and forests and the protection of the air and water. Historic preservation is not usually associated with this kind of group. However, the Hunterdon Land Trust, headquartered in Flemington, New Jersey, defies that. In addition to protecting land and natural resources, the Trust focuses on historic preservation. The historic Dvoor Farmstead, which can trace its history to William Penn, who had the property surveyed in 1712, stands out as a well-preserved agricultural farmstead that was developed from the late eighteenth century through the early twentieth century.

Horse barn at the Dvoor Farmstead, built circa 1930.
William Penn originally owned a 5,000 acre tract of land that was surveyed in 1712, by right of a warrant obtained from the West Jersey Proprietors in 1711. Penn died in 1718 and the land was willed to his three sons, John, Thomas and Richard. These three men subdivided the land further and sold a 374 acre tract, which includes what is today the Dvoor Farmstead, to German immigrant Johan Philip Kaes in 1738. Over time, the Kaes surname was anglicized into Case. Tradition maintains that Kaes built a log cabin on the property, near the brook, with the assistance of a nearby Native American village whose chief, Tuccamirgan, who had become friendly with him after amicable dealings. The log cabin was eventually replaced by a stone home, which stood until approximately 1850. 

Johan Philip Kaes married twice and had at least nine children, five with his first wife Anna Elizabeth and four with his second, Rachel Hauser. He died in 1756 and it is believed that he was buried in the Case family graveyard on what is now Bonnell Street, Flemington. After Johan's death, the property was subdivided between his heirs and sold out of the family for a brief period, but in 1785, Philip Case (Johan Philip’s son) acquired the property on the west side of the creek encompassing the present farmstead, where he lived and farmed throughout his life. Philip and his brother Peter established a tannery along the creek between 1776 and 1780 and later Philip built a brickyard and kiln on the property.

Blind east gable oculus, showing a date of 1798 and the initials A, B, and C.
In 1798, Philip Case constructed a large, two-story, five-bay stone Georgian home. The double-pile, center-hall plan style home featured interior gable end chimneys. The home was built using coursed rubble masonry with cut stone and brick trim. The exterior walls of the house were constructed of sedimentary fieldstone ranging from reddish brown to grayish brown in color. The corner quoins, front window lintels, and east gable oculus were made of reddish brown, carefully cut, and picked-dressed sandstone. The home was larger than most Hunterdon County homes constructed during this time and demonstrated the means and success of this early family.

The blind east gable oculus, which faces Flemington, includes the date 1798, to represent the year of construction and the initials A, B, and C. It is believed that the “C” stands for Case, the “A” for Philip Case’s wife Amy, the “B” can best be explained as a modified “P” for Philip. The blind west gable oculus is significantly smaller in size, as it faced the country, and only includes the date 1798 within it. Each oculus features curved “sunray” muntins. 

Case’s brick kiln presumably provided brick for the dwelling’s massive chimney stacks and other brick trim.  By examining Philip Case's daybooks, it is believed that the home was built by mason William Connor. Nineteenth century historian John W. Lequear also identifies Connor as the person who "topped out the east chimney." Additionally, Case's tannery would have been the logical and most probably supply of the animal hair used in making the mortar and plaster. 

Philip Case passed away in 1831 and his sons Peter and John inherited the homestead farm, and the tannery was passed to their brother Joseph. John Case owned the property until 1860 when the homestead was sold at a court-ordered sheriff’s sale to settle a judgment for unpaid debt.

Flemington Mining Company, circa 1850s. Courtesy Hunterdon Land Trust.
On June 5, 1860, the Case farm was purchased at public auction for $300 by George Allen, one of the principals of the Hunterdon Iron Mining Company, in hopes of opening a viable copper mine there. The Flemington Copper Company, chartered in 1846, established a mining operation on the nearby Capner farm, which included an office and housing for employees. After a few years, the prospects for making a viable mining company in Flemington failed.

Between 1870 and 1871, Elizabeth and Otis B. Davis purchased the Case farm and three small adjoining tracts including the former tannery site, encompassing 103 acres. About 1880, they built a large six-bay bank barn and operated a large dairy farm for nearly forty years. A north and east ell are located off the main barn, built circa 1880 and circa 1930, respectively. According to the 1880 Agricultural Schedule of the Federal Census, the farm was listed as having thirty dairy cows, the largest herd in Raritan Township. The farm produced approximately 23,000 gallons of milk in 1879.

The stone farmhouse was renovated during the Victorian era, post-1870. Some of the alterations during this period include the installation of round-arched marble mantels on the two first-story west fireplaces, as well as several doors and some door and window trim. In the twentieth century, the wall between the two first-story west rooms was removed, parquet flooring was installed throughout much of the first story and a bathroom was added to a small room at the front of the second-story hall, work which probably occurred around 1930. The installation of a bathroom under the staircase on the first story and remodeling of the kitchen occurred after World War II. Despite the alterations, the home retains early architectural details such as random width flooring, wall and ceiling plaster, molded woodwork, panel doors, the central staircase and several fireplaces. Two built-in cupboards remain on the first floor and one built-in corner cupboard with butterfly shelves and butt hinges remains in a bedroom on the second floor. All three cupboards feature a rounded arch, an architrave surround, and a molded cornice joined by a projected key block.

The 1798 Case Farmhouse. Courtesy Hunterdon Land Trust.
The basement of the home functioned as a food production and storage area. On the western wall of the basement, a low-arched brick platform was probably used as a shelf for aging cheeses and other dairy operations. A Case-era diary entry from the Flemington area indicates similar operations.

The home features a large, spacious attic that shows evidence of being used to store grain, as a protection against rodents and pilfering. Graffiti found on a plank partition mentions “bushels 27 of oats,” and “54 bushels of wheat,” the dates "1816" and "1817", and various accounts kept in the British currency of pounds, shillings, and pence. The attic is open except for two bed-chambers constructed on the eastern side of the house. Evidence of a staircase into the rear room that would have gone down to the remains of the staircase in the basement indicates that these rooms would have most likely been sleeping quarters for servants and/or slaves.
Early 19th century graffiti on the plank walls of the attic in the 1798 farmhouse.
The Davis family owned the property until 1910. Between 1910 and 1920, the property changed hands twice until it was purchased by Russian emigrant Jacob Dvoor in 1920. The property was named Mine Brook Farm, and Jacob established a livestock operation specializing in horses and dairy cows. Jacob’s two younger brothers, George and Samuel, joined him in this business venture. Jacob was salesman, George the buyer, and Samuel served as farm manager. The “Dvoor Bros.” became a successful, well-respected business within Hunterdon County, eventually encompassing six other Hunterdon County farms. In the 1930s, the property saw the addition of the large gambrel-roofed horse barn was built by a local contractor named McPherson. The massive gambrel roof was covered with asbestos shingles laid in a diamond pattern. The painted advertisement, which reads “Dvoor Bro’s/Minebrook Stock-Farm/Dairy Cows - Horses,” covers almost the entire south roof slope and remains a local landmark. Built about the same time was the one-story, three-bay farm office, located between the 1798 farmhouse and 1930s horse barn.

Upon Jacob Dvoor’s death in 1972, the home and farm passed to his two sons, Melvin and Herbert, subject to the life interest of their mother, Ida. After their mother’s death in 1983, Melvin conveyed the 24.06-acre tract encompassing the farmstead to his brother, Herbert, who continued to conduct the family business in dairy cows into the 1990s. In 1999, Herbert Dvoor sold the property to the South Branch Watershed Association, which in turn, conveyed the farmstead and surrounding acreage to the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance. The Case Dvoor Farmstead was listed on New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places in 1999 due to the farmstead's significance in illustrating the evolution of Hunterdon County's farm culture and building practices between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, the Hunterdon Land Trust maintains the farmstead, using the farmhouse for office and meeting space. Continuing Hunterdon County's rich agricultural tradition, the property is also host to a farmer's market, where local farmers carry on the tradition of selling locally grown fruits and vegetables to the residents of this ever-developing county.

Additional photos of my trip to the Dvoor Farmstead on Pinterest

Dvoor Farmstead Podcast (right click and choose "save target/link as" to save to your hard drive)

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I live a stones throw away and have always wondered about its history. Thanks so much for all your research. Now it makes perfect sense why everything grows so well here

I live in Neshanic Station not far from the farm. I've seen this article and didn't consider the connection to it till i received a newsletter from the Hunterdon Land Trust about the Case family owning it. I knew i had the Case family name in my family tree but when i saw the Johan and Philip names in the article, i took another look and sure enough they are my fifth and sixth grandfathers. Genealogy can be a cool thing. William Van Natta

Melvin Dvoor, sadly, passed away today. Melvin and his wife marilyn are best friends to my grandparents. I'm saddened to tell you all this. Please send prayers of comfort their way. Thanks.

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